Thursday, December 3, 2015

An interview in Italian with cli-fi author Bruno Arpaia by journalist Elisa Cozzarini

Tranlation by Annaliese Schultz in Canada for this blog.
Thank you, Professor Schultz!

An interview from an Italian magazine with cli-fi author Bruno Arpaia by journalist Elisa Cozzarini, translated into Engish by Canadian translator Annaliese Schulz.

BRUNO ARPAIA: “Let me tell you how we will be living the nightmare of global warming.”

INTRODUCTION by the reporter: Submerged cities, landscapes become desert, floods and drought, scenes of the apocalypse ― this is the backdrop to cli-fi, a literary genre born within the context of science fiction that now stands on its own and is hugely popular among young readers in the English-speaking world. The term was coined by a North American writer and journalist in 2008. An Amazon search now turns up more than 2,000 titles under cli-fi.

Among the best-known authors are Canadian Margaret Atwood and Brit Ian McEwan. Building  believable and nightmarish worlds of the future, they draw readers into the vicarious experience of daily life turned upside-down by the catastrophe of global warming. Seeking to arouse public opinion and push governments to take radical measures to halt climate change, they attempt, through literature, to do their part to save the planet. In Italy, the first to embrace climate fiction is Bruno Arpaia, writer, journalist and translator of Spanish and South American literature. His next novel, "Something Out There", which will be released by Guanda in April 2016, is set in a completely desertified Italy and in a Germany where in winter the rain is incessant and in summer, there is no water. Let’s hear what he has to say about his choice of this literary genre....

QUESTION: Bruno Arpaia, how do cli-fi writers make themselves heard in a public discourse which has little room for discussion of climate change?

BRUNO ARPAIA: "In "Solar", a cli-fi novel by Ian McEwan, the companion of the protagonist’s friend says that to take global warming seriously would mean not thinking about anything else, because of the enormity of the scenarios facing us. On the one hand, then, it’s a topic so terrifying that one can hardly talk about it. Climate change, to which we now add terrorism, is the great fear of our age, as the atomic bomb was the terror of the Twentieth Century. However, because we struggle with how to deal with it, it is a topic that hardly arises in public discourse. In fact, with 99.5 % of scientists now agreeing that the increase in Earth’s temperature is due to man’s intervention, there are no tools that allow for a clear prediction of what will happen. Many variables are unknown, such as the profound movements of the oceans, so immense that they are beyond our understanding. There are, however, studies and models that allow us to imagine a likely world future. With respect to science fiction, then, climate fiction creates contexts that could really happen; it is based on a scientific foundation. By reading, you learn, you enter a world that could be our world in sixty years, if we do nothing".

The 21st UN Conference on Climate Change begins today in Paris. The goal of the 195 States present is to reach an agreement that allows us to limit the rise in global temperature to 
2 °C.  There are many expectations around this event. What are your thoughts?

BRUNO ARPAIA: "I hope they reach an ambitious agreement, but we already know that it will be less than what we need for radical change. Many scientists now think that the scenario outlined by the IPCC experts, the intergovernmental group of the UN, is optimistic. For example, it does not take into account the effects of the melting of permafrost and consequent release of methane, which has twenty times more warming potential than carbon dioxide. This is why the limit of 2 °C warming seems arbitrary, a concept without basis. Nobody can be sure that some irreversible processes have not already begun. Many scientists predict that the melting ice caps could lead to a 12- to 80-meter rise in sea levels, with an increase in temperatures of 6 °C by 2100. I stress that this could happen if we do not act immediately".

Literature can carry its weight in raising awareness. What could be the key to change?

BRUNO ARPAIA: "In our democracies, at all levels, from national to municipal governments, politicians are incapable of seeing the bigger picture; they are too focused on getting re-elected. Recognizing the urgency to act against climate change would mean instead taking drastic and unpopular measures which would have no consensus in the short term. It is in this sense above all that literature can play an important role, setting the reader down in an upside-down universe. Living the story, he or she gains a more accurate and intense perception of what could happen. Knowledge of these scenarios through our emotions, which is more impactful, can actually shake public opinion, and lead to pressure on governments to adopt forward-looking measures in order to avoid worst-case scenarios".

How did you construct the setting for your novel?

BRUNO ARPAIA:"It's an alarming but realistic world that I’ve derived from scientists’ predictions. In sixty or seventy years, this could really be the future, and life as we know it today may only be possible around the Arctic Circle, in Scandinavia, Siberia, Greenland, Canada. I’ve read the studies of James Hansen, one of the gurus of climate change and among the first at NASA to foresee the risks of global warming, as well as research by the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford. This book fits into my custom of writing novels that have science― a territory that is fascinating, mysterious and compelling to the reader― at the core ".

While narrating the events in your novel, did you identify with your characters, personally feeling the effects of climate change?

"When you write, you're in the head of your characters, so yes, I felt anguished, thirsty; I dreamed of salvation, as they do. Writing is a process in which you always learn something; it’s a discovery. Walking with one of my characters, I saw the mangroves in Hamburg; I experienced what this kind of world could be like. For the first time, I wrote over a very short period of time, just three months, while all my other books have had a gestation period of years. I went from an image I’d had in my mind for the past twenty years, of a great migration, combined it with my readings on climate change, and imagined this world. I felt the need to write this; initially, I didn’t even know that the literary trend of cli-fi existed. Because it’s
really true, as the main character in "Solar" says, that climate change seems like something that’s too much to think about, but ultimately, it is important to do so".


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